Genius Hour: The Next Wave in Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

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The “Genius Hour” is a concept that many schools are adopting – and for good reason. It empowers students to spend a portion of every day or week focusing on a topic of personal interest. Each student is also given opportunities to share his/her work and passion project with other students, teachers, and the school community at large. It is such a powerful way to embrace diverse interests, promote student centered learning, and engage students in an authentic manner.

However, this concept of empowering students to embrace their own way of learning is not new. It is, in fact, closely aligned with Universal Design for Learning (UDL), a system of curriculum development that emphasizes that students should be given choices in how they stay engaged, access knowledge, and demonstrate learning. With UDL, students select the learning tools that match their own learning profile and in that way  it allows teachers to address a wide range of strengths in a single classroom.

Implementing UDL broadly in a school system remains challenging for two key reasons. First, many teachers see it as a domain of special education that is only practical for students with a documented disability – despite the fact that UDL can bring out the best in all of our students, regardless of special ed identification. Second, there is a huge burden placed on teachers in identifying and becoming comfortable with a wide range of technological tools that can provide this sort of flexibility for students.

Thankfully, modern mobile technology is better able to provide a number of pathways to make UDL practical for all students – without demanding so much from teachers. Technology can also help to bridge the gap between student passions and authentic learning in a Genius Hour implementation. In fact, Genius Hour is the logical extension of UDL – it is the move from personalization to meet all needs to personalization to empower student leadership in learning.

With that in mind, I wanted to provide a starter kit of nine of the best current tools that can help teachers to implement UDL and Genius Hour without leaving anyone behind.

Mindmup – a simple mind mapping tool for students to plan out their next project.
Google Keep – a great way to organize topics, to-do lists, or anything else that you need to remember
Evernote – a perfect companion to web research, collect and collate web pages and other resources

Tinkercad – planning on doing some 3d design? Tinkercad is a free, kid-friendly tool to make it happen
WeVideo – online movie making that saves content in the cloud
DoInk – green screen iPad app lets you put yourself anywhere in the world

Explain Everything – screencasting tool, present your information and record yourself talking about it
Google Sites – the new Google sites is still in its infancy, but it is already an easy way for a student to get on the web to share their passion with the world
SeeSaw – for younger kids, SeeSaw is a perfect platform for sharing work and the process with parents

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